Juan Martin del Potro upsets the King of Flushing Meadows

Sep 15, 2009

The King of the US Open Roger Federer has been officially overthrown, dethroned and sent packing by the Argentine Big Friendly Giant, one Juan Martin del Potro.

Last year, not many would have recognised his name when they heard it. Climbing the rankings as a teenager, he had a name for being a little flash, and caused a flutter in many a hearts with a scorching photo shoot in Open Magazine. He had the infamous argument with Andy Murray on the chairs at the US Open last year, something so sacrilegious that it even received coverage over here in England, where American tennis gets little look in. But up until this year, most people hadn’t even heard of the 20 year old from Tandil, Argentina.

But now, El Palito (“the popsicle”) is becoming a name to admire, follow and enjoy watching. And in some style; reaching the semi-finals in the French Open, and following it up with his best victory to date, winning his first Grand Slam title at the US Open – and doing it by beating both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

With a name sounding like a exotic cocktail, most people love to say it in the best south American accent they can muster, but typing it out is tricky. The nicknames started when he reached the semi-finals at Rolland Garros, and they haven’t really stopped: Leaning Tower of Potro, El Palito, JMDP, DelPo, DP, Enano, and my new favourite ‘Wolverine’ (I think it’s the hair and the stubble, the long slender body, and some serious height). He has many aliases as new fans, as he proves that young men further down in the rankings can power through even the greatest of the great to get their name in lights.

The match was a five-set affair, with del Potro trailing two sets to one in the fourth and starting to look that maybe all the work in the second set would be in vain. Still, he got his head in the game (yes, I did just quote High School Musical, but give me some slack it’s been a long night) and started to test the mentality of his opponent. He took control of the fourth set tiebreak, forcing a final set that he looked – and ultimately was – confident to win.

It was drama from beginning to end, but particular incidences stick out. For example, Federer’s little freak out in the middle of the match. In his argument with the umpire over del Potro’s late challenge, he exclaimed: “Don’t tell me to be quiet Ok…When I wanna talk, I talk, all right?….I don’t give a s*** what he said…Don’t tell me the f*****g rules.”

Whoa. Roger! The umpire and the world no. 1 rubbed each other up completely the wrong way over del Potro’s challenge. Admittedly, it was a rather late one, it shouldn’t have been given. Ultimately, nothing came of it and the ball was out. Umpires, however, aren’t out to be a player’s best bud, are human and will make stupid mistakes. It got Federer ruffled and unhappy for understandable reasons. It was shocking to see, as Federer’s attitude is usually one so stoic and calm.

From the third set onwards, from Federer’s point of view, he looked at DP as though he were a gatecrasher, come to ruin his party. The guy had come blasting through the back door uninvited, brought his own keg of beer, changed the music, and got all of Rog’s guest to come back to his place afterwards. Juan Martin hadn’t read the script, and Federer looked about ready to get hold of it and beat it against the umpire’s chair leg during their little tiff.

But, for once, this isn’t about Roger Federer. This is about del Potro who, with mental strength to be one set and a break down and then claw his way up and past the world no. 1 Federer, being able to clinch every possibility to take the trophy home with him.

When Federer hooked a backhand long on match point in the fifth and final set, del Potro watched it hit the concrete before letting that long frame collapse to the floor. Lying with his hands on his eyes, emotion overtaking him, there wasn’t a still pair of hands in the house as the crowd stood to congratulate the new young star. They helped him, exhausted and with tears in his eyes, to clamber around the stadium to thank everyone.

He raised the trophy above his head, still red-eyed and runny nosed, and thanked family, friends and the crowd in both English and Spanish, before standing for the obligatory lightning storm of photographs with his first grand slam trophy.

Congratulations to both finalists. Federer is still a champion of champions, no doubt about it. But he couldn’t quite be the champion he wanted to be last night, all thanks to Juan Martin del Potro. His name will be climbing its way even higher in the rankings over the next year, and that’s a guarantee.

“It’s difficult to explain this moment. Since January I have dreamed of this. I take this trophy with me now, and I’m done. I did my dream….At the beginning of the match I was so nervous, I didn’t sleep last night. When I lay on the ground at the end, so many things went through my mind. My friends, my family…it’s my best sensation ever in my life. It’s too early to explain how I feel right now, maybe tomorrow, maybe in a week. Now…I don’t know, I don’t understand nothing.”

- Juan Martin del Potro



- SophieG

Written by: SophieG

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